How do you know if a hawk is in distress?

Answered by Willie Powers

When determining if a hawk is in distress, there are several signs and behaviors to look out for. By paying close attention to the bird’s appearance and actions, you can assess whether it requires assistance or veterinary attention.

1. Quieter and Dull Appearance: A hawk in distress will appear noticeably quiet and dull. It may sit in one place without much movement or vocalization. This behavior is a stark contrast to a healthy hawk, which is typically alert and active.

2. Closed Eyes: If the hawk’s eyes are closed or partially closed, it is a clear indication of distress. Normally, hawks keep their eyes open and remain vigilant to their surroundings. Closed eyes suggest that the bird is weak, injured, or unwell.

3. Fluffed Feathers: Another visible sign of distress is when a hawk’s feathers are fluffed up or appear puffed. Fluffing their feathers helps birds trap air and create an insulating layer to keep warm, but in distress, this behavior is often exaggerated. It indicates that the hawk is trying to conserve energy or regulate its body temperature due to an underlying health issue.

4. Obvious Wounds: If you notice any visible wounds on the hawk, such as bleeding, cuts, or open sores, it is a clear sign of distress. These wounds could be the result of a predator attack, collision, or other injuries. These wounds can be an entry point for infections, so it is crucial to seek professional help for the hawk.

5. Breathing Problems: A distressed hawk may show signs of difficulty in breathing. This can manifest as rapid, shallow breathing or panting. Observe if the bird’s chest moves irregularly or if it seems to be struggling to draw breath. Respiratory issues may indicate trauma, illness, or even poisoning, and immediate attention is necessary.

6. Drooping Wing: A hawk with a drooping wing is likely injured. This could be due to a broken bone, dislocation, or other damage. The bird may hold its wing at an odd angle or struggle to lift it. It is essential not to attempt to handle or immobilize the bird yourself, as improper handling could worsen the injury.

7. Lameness or Inability to Stand: If the hawk is unable to stand or shows signs of lameness, it is a clear indication of distress. This could be due to leg or foot injuries, neurological issues, or weakness. In such cases, the bird may appear uncoordinated or struggle to maintain balance.

8. Lack of Flight Response: A healthy hawk will typically fly away when approached by humans. However, a distressed hawk may not have the energy or capability to fly off. If the bird remains stationary or shows no attempt to escape, it suggests that it is in distress and requires attention.

It is important to remember that if you encounter a hawk in distress, it is best to contact local wildlife rehabilitators or animal control authorities. They have the necessary expertise and resources to provide appropriate care and treatment for the bird. Attempting to handle or treat the hawk without proper knowledge and training can further harm the bird and put yourself at risk.